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Questions remain on how co-pilot exited mid-flight near Raleigh

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — A twin-engine cargo plane made an emergency landing Friday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport after reported landing-gear issues and a search for the co-pilot who jumped from it before the landing ended with a recovery of a body, according to officials from Wake County.

ABC 11, Channel 9′s sister station in Raleigh, reported a man jumped out of the plane before it made its emergency landing near Raeford after a wheel had come off the landing gear.

There are now questions about he exactly exited the plane. The conversation between the plane and air traffic control can be heard in a 40-minute recording, ABC 11 reported on Saturday night.

“Emergency, we’ve lost our right wheel, we’d like to proceed to Raleigh and make a landing at Raleigh,” one pilot said. “We were attempting to land, we made contact with the ground, had a hard landing, and decided to go around, and at that point we lost the wheel.”

The CASA C-212 Aviocar, made in Spain in 1983 landed on Runway 5R-23L at RDU around 2:40 p.m. and veered into the grass. The pilot on board was taken to Duke Hospital with minor injuries, according to RDU first responders.

“How do you intend to land at Raleigh-Durham?” air traffic control asked. “Get as slow as we can ... I guess we’re going to put it on the belly,” the caller said.

After the emergency landing, the pilot was taken to Duke Hospital with minor injuries and has since been released.

The body of co-pilot Charles Hew Crooks, 23, was found 20 miles away from the airport in a Fuquay-Varina neighborhood.

Several residents told ABC 11 they heard the crash, one of them being a person who realized it was in his backyard.

“I thought honestly it was somebody who was slamming their trash can lid or something cause it was pretty loud,” the eyewitness said.

The pilot told authorities that co-pilot aboard jumped out before the landing attempt, according to ABC 11′s reporting. The jumper was initially thought to have exited the plane toward a body of water near West Lake Middle School in Apex.

Another resident who lives two doors down from where Crooks was found near called it a “surreal,” experience.

“I guess I don’t know if we’ll ever really know, but it’s just crazy” Matt Stone told ABC 11. “If he jumped a second earlier, he could’ve been right here in my kid’s playset. Just a million things, and the sadness about it, of it being a 23-year-old guy who probably woke up that day, had breakfast, ready to go fly a plane.”

Several agencies assisted in the massive search before it ended Friday evening. The National Transportation Safety Board is in charge of the investigation, but questions remain on how Crooks exited during the flight.

Wake County authorities said on Friday there was no indication he had a parachute with him.

“Maybe he fell, or jumped, I don’t know,” a eyewitness said. “But I was feeling remorseful for his family.”

The plane landed after it was unable to open its right landing gear, but the left landing gear appeared to be working properly. The plane is owned by Spore LTD LLC in Colorado Springs and took off from Raeford.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the incident. Runway 5R-23L at RDU was reopened on Saturday and the airport returned to normal operations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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